Obamacare? Just more of that empathy

Saturday, September 12, 2009
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As for President Obama’s speech on health care the other night, I thought it was a fine effort, possibly even great, making clear the need for reform and striking the right balance between determination and compromise, all of it clearly articulated, but I don’t believe it will make any difference at all.

From what I can see, the people I call the Angry Ones or the Belligerent Ones are hell-bent on blocking any government effort whatsoever to clean up our health-care mess.

Socialism! they holler. Or: Communism! They don’t care what Obama says. They don’t care what anyone says who isn’t wired to a microphone at Fox Propaganda.

They go to Town Hall meetings not to listen and learn but to shout and name-call, or to ask such disarming questions as, “If the plan fails, will congressmen be willing to be executed?” which was actually the first question asked at the Town Hall meeting held by Rep. Paul Tonko in Bethlehem.

Republican congressmen squirmed and sneered their way through Obama’s speech in the same contemptuous spirit, rudely waving papers of some sort and in one now-famous instance shouting, “You lie.” The shouter later apologized, but wait and see if he doesn’t become a folk hero.

“One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government,” Obama declared, in a conciliatory nod to this rancorous crowd.

But then he continued, ever so hopefully: “large-heartedness … too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people’s shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.”

And at that point he might as well have been whistling in the wind. They knew what he meant. He meant empathy.

Concern for the plight of others? Stand in other people’s shoes? A helping hand?

Not on your life. Just try to confiscate my hard-earned money and give it to some lout who’s too lazy to work, is the position of the Angry Ones. I stand in my own shoes, and I’ve got my gun here to back me up.

Oh, for a return to the wild frontier! Or even to the good old days before the Roman civitas and the Greek polis, when every savage stood on his own, spear at the ready, with no thought of a larger good.

That seems to be their ideal, a pre-civilized state, which, however, as I have noted before, is contradicted by their simultaneous love for a secretive, totalitarian government making war, torturing prisoners, and bugging telephones — but never mind.

For the Angry Ones’ reactions to the president’s appeal to large-heartedness, you had only to turn to the comments posted on Fox’s Web site:

“This house is riddled with vermin and us Freedom, Liberty and Heritage loving Americans are the clean-up crew,” was a typical one.

“What a national disgrace … look away when this false prophet walks by” was another.

They reject the social compact that has bound us together since we laid down our spears, yes, but they also reject democracy. “This is not a democracy, this is a republic,” is one of their formulaic lines.

“Democracy is inherently self-destructing,” one reader advised me, while insisting he himself is not angry, just worried.

I hesitate to apply to this movement or this subculture a conventional name, like Radical Right or anything of the sort, because that makes it sound political, whereas I believe it is deeper than that, belonging more to the realm of psychology or psychiatry.

I think if our practitioners of the psychiatric arts would concern themselves with something other than inventing new disorders to bill insurance companies for and set themselves the task of understanding the lock-and-load yearning for a pre-civilized state that we are caught up in, we would all be wiser — though I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

The movement, or the subculture, whatever you want to call it, is certainly not going away. If anything, it feels to me like it’s stronger than ever, probably energized by having Barack Obama in the White House with his empathy and his “public option” to get them pumped.

When their own boys Bush and Cheney were in the White House, running the country into the ground, they had to be a tad defensive. No more.

So I am not sanguine about our country’s prospects, with so many of my fellow citizens openly disdainful of the nobler sentiments and proudly protective of their selfishness, whether they call it liberty or anything else.

I do note that the secular side of their philosophy accords nicely with the variety of Christianity that many of them profess, a variety that promises eternal bliss to them and their friends and eternal hellfire to the rest of us unfortunates, who will be “left behind” when they and their friends get raptured up to heaven.

(“Left Behind” is the title of a fictional book series promoting this fantasy of theirs, a series that has sold some 65 million copies, and just think about that — 65 million.)

Perhaps only people capable of such a theology could jeer and boo at the suggestion of publicly subsidized health care. Doesn’t it all seem to fit — their politics, their psychology, their theology? I’m going to heaven, and you, you socialist crumb-bum with your Marxist empathy, you know where you can go.

Is it by chance that so many of the leaders and heroes of this subculture are blatantly nasty — people like Bill O’Reilly, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Antonin Scalia?

I think not. I think there is a divine congruence at work here.

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September 13, 2009
2:38 p.m.
myshortpencil says...

You know, if all the government wanted to do was to help those in need, few would object. But the government has no intention of stopping there. It wants to tell us all how to live because that affects its cost for helping those in need. That's where it crosses the liberty line. The principle of liberty means that you get to live your life by any lawful means you choose, being no more encumbered by your choice than anyone else in making his/her choice. If you choose to live in a way that tends to cause illness, and you have no money for treatment, my compassion to assist you cannot be limited by my opinion of the lawful choices you made if I value your liberty as much as my own. So, even if an errant columnist turns out to need some medical or mental health assistance, and even if he has chosen a profession with more sitting than moving, well he's entitled to his choices and his opinions regardless of what others may think of them, and he deserves assistance out of the human compassion to help those in need.

September 13, 2009
3:43 p.m.
tomsmith1 says...

Carl Strock weaves a telling picture of the predicament in which America finds itself today. It struck me, as it did him, that President Obama's speech to Congress -- with its stress on civility and compromise for the larger good -- evoked more in the way of a call for true Christian values than any presidential rhetoric in recent memory; whereas the orchestrated paper waving and sneering responses from his polital opposition were shamefully un-Christian in nature.

Why, then, didn''t everyone see what Carl Strock and I saw?

I think that it stems from the reality that packaged, exploitative sound bytes are easier to deal with than thoughtful contemplation.

In fact, people who disagree with what I'm writing here will likely not read what I'm saying all the way through. They're content to rage at my position that's opposed to theirs, as opposed to considering what merit my arguments may have.

I see this everywhere. Recently I've watched samples of Glenn Beck's orations on YouTube. While some of what he says strikes me as accurate observation, Beck's vague musings inevitably devolve into maudlin, apoplectic incoherence, where he tearfully exhorts his army of the faithful to help him take back his country through any means necessary.

That's my analyisis of Beck's rhetoric. Others listen to Glenn Beck and hear in his buzz words a latter-day prophet whose tears prove that he speaks from his soul. His seemingly paranoid rantings give legitimacy to their worst racist fears and fuel passion for their second amendment rights.

If a transparently manipulative emotional ploy, a loosely constructed stew of truth and gibberish, connects with people, it's safe to say logic and an appeal to conscience isn't much of an antidote.

Still, it would thrill me to see intelligent conservatives, who -- unable to watch the vulgar exploitation of their party toward ugly racist ends -- speak in numbers about the hijacking of the "conservative" label by these pseudo-Christian yahoos.

The word "conservative" used to be synonymous with "responsible." As a liberal thinker, I've long held my conservative friends in high regard as ballast to my more extreme leanings.

However, I can't find a nickle's worth of wisdom in the FOX "News" demagogues who try to pass themselves off as conservatives by misting up every time the word "soldier" or "Christian" is mentioned, while peddling biased bilge that makes mockery of their motto to be "fair and balanced." Agree with them, you're a great American; disagree with them, you're a pinhead.

They bill themselves as champions of freedom, and endlessly flatter their listeners as being superpatriots. In their heart of hearts, do they actually believe that either is true?

September 14, 2009
6:53 a.m.
Larryk1015 says...

We have a selective memory in this country. This is why we need to be reminded of a few things over and over.

Our nation is a republic and not a democracy. The founders knew in a pure democracy a small minority could drive the agenda for the whole nation.

For example despite the fact that most Americans believe in God we have to be careful not to offend the few who don't. We forget the infamous phrase "Separation of church and state" is not even in the Constitution.

And just because of one isolated Supreme Court case every woman now has the right to kill off her preborn baby anytime she wants. A fact the woman involved in the case now deeply regrets.

So now even though most Americans have access to health care we have to create a giant new monster government program for the few who don't. All that's needed are few common sense solutions. These were the papers the Republicans were waving during the president's lecture last week.

Meanwhile what about in 2005 when it wasn't one "hero" congressman speaking out, it was almost half the chamber booing president Bush? No one said a word about that. Yet another case of selective memory.

September 17, 2009
7:22 p.m.
WillMiller says...

"The oft-stated logic of "government out of my life" is a fantasy existence you've never experienced, and that you'd whimper in fear over were you ever subjected to it for an instant. Make a list of the industries you're aware of: medical, chemical, automobile, steel, housing, whatever. Each and every one of them would crush you with glee without government regulations if it added to their profits by one one-millionth of a percentage point. They'd sell the juice they squeezed out of you as a refreshment drink, if they could get away with it. As corrupt and inefficient as your government is (and it clearly is), it's the only thing keeping you alive moment to moment. Reform it, by all means. Keep it honest. Throw out the bums who aren't protecting you adequately enough. But, end its involvement in your life? Scale it back? You're kidding yourself. That's a joke. Take one look back at history (please, just one look!), and see how workers, and children, and consumers are now protected where they were once injured and exploited. That's called "progress," and we're hoping to add a little more." --Evan Handler

To all those who want to talk about the Founders remember what your hero Thomas Jefferson said about Corporations:

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed
corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a
trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

When you take power away from the Government that you control you are only empowering the corporations in this case the insurance industry that you do not!

September 22, 2009
11:37 a.m.
jbalko says...

Corporations would rarely grow to the size that they do if it were not from the government giving them monopolistic conditions--and if they had such a large corporation, it would be not a coercive one, so what is wrong with that? If it did begin to try to squeeze the life out of its customers, all we would have to do is not buy. In the same way we vote for a legislature, every time we buy the product of a company, we are voting for it to stay in business. If we do not like that companies prices or practices, all we have to do is not vote for them. Others will see an opportunity for advancing themselves in that industry. That is the way the market works. (No, the market is not infallible, but luckily, everyone participates, and those who take the biggest risks get either the biggest returns or the biggest losses—a pretty fair system). You cannot continually abuse your voters if you want to stay in power. The only people with that capacity is our legislatures. Lets us say it is a technical monopoly, like roads built by a private company, where it only makes sense for one company to be in business. If it weren't against the laws, there would just be a corporate take over, like we used to have, if it ever got to a point that the majority of the people felt pricing was unfair.
If you are under the impression that child labor wasn’t on the downturn, or general labor conditions were not already getting better before legislative fiat, you should check your history. You should also check what seems to be a pretty generally accepted principle: society moves much faster than the State. Most people already agree with gay marriage. A majority of people knew slavery was wrong before it was abolished. People now understand that educational choice and competition is important—even public school teachers are in favor of education tax credits so children can go to private schools. But these things are not initiated by the State because they lag behind. To do otherwise would to them seem politically suicidal.
Do you think it is better to have businesses run the country through the government, who has a monopoly on force, which is how this country is currently run? Or would it be better for them to not be able to lobby for their own interest? Wouldn’t it be better to have consumers tell the business what to do? Or is it better to have the businesses tell the government what consumers can do? These seem to be the choices available to us now. It seems like a false choice, I know, but look around.

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